Thumbscrews promise skin-stretching gaming controller

If you thought the PS Vita already gave gamers’ digits enough to keep track of, a new analogue game controller could mean even more features packed onto upcoming devices.

While the Vita might already have all five digits counted for with its rear touch screen, a team of researchers has looked at analogue thumbsticks to add even more to the once simple game pad.

Researchers at the University of Utah have been working on game controller thumbsticks which can jolt a user’s hand to give more realistic simulations of in game situations, such as that of a gun recoiling or the swaying of ocean waves.

Since Nintendo stuck its RumblePack on the oddly shaped N64 controller, console makers have regularly been adding vibrating controllers to simulate various parts of a game.

The device which the team developed will, alongside vibrating to give a sense of motion, push and pull the user’s thumbs in different directions to give “directional cues”.

The thumbstick is part of a controller which looks much like the current X-Box controller, albeit with the addition of IBM TrackPoint-like red balls in the middle.  These ‘tactor’ points are able to stretch the thumb skin to divert attention to different directions.

For example, the researchers reckon this will mean that when an in-game avatar crashes into a wall the thumbstick will correspondingly move in the opposite direction to mimic an impact.  So repeatedly careering into the walls of a racing game may become even more annoying than ever before.

There are also possibilities for fishing games, where more realistic recoil could be produced without the need for ridiculous fishing rod peripherals.

The researchers reckon that the controller will be good for the next wave of consoles and also have an eye on the popular smartphone market, saying the controller could be fitted onto the sides of handsets.